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7 Ways to Start a Digital Illustration Career

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Key Takeaways

  • Showcasing your best work gives you the biggest advantage to thrive as a digital illustrator.
  • While formal education is important, it’s your skills and illustrations that land you your dream job.
  • You can build a solo illustrator career by creating digital products and selling them on your online store.
  • Creating content around your expertise can make fans and companies approach you.

Earn a Digital Illustration Degree

The most common way to start a career as a digital illustrator is to apply to a university and earn a related degree in digital arts. The best way to start your search is to Google: “digital illustration or digital art degree and your country of residence or state where you live.”

The benefit of choosing a traditional college and university path is that you will gain much of the needed knowledge required to work in the digital illustration industry.

The downside is the student loans that can pile up and which you need to pay when you eventually get to work in the industry.

The four primary degrees in arts:

  • AA – Associate of Arts
  • BFA – Bachelor of Fine Arts
  • MA – Master of Arts
  • MFA – Master of Fine Arts
  • CERT – Certificate

Examples of available programs in universities related to digital illustration:

  • Advertising
  • Animation & visual effects
  • Game development
  • Graphic design
  • Illustration
  • Industrial design
  • Interior architecture & design
  • Visual development

Examples of U.S. universities that have digital art programs available:

Typical undergraduate degrees you can earn related to digital illustration:

  • B.F.A. (Bachelor of Fine Arts): The degree often includes concentrations in digital art, digital illustration, and visual design. It provides a comprehensive education in the visual arts, including traditional and digital mediums.
  • B.A. (Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design): This degree program focuses on graphic design, which is closely related to digital art and visual design. It typically covers digital tools and techniques used in design, including software like Adobe Creative Suite.
  • B.S. (Bachelor of Science in Digital Media): This degree program is designed to teach students about various aspects of digital media, including digital art, animation, and interactive design. It often involves hands-on experience with digital tools.
  • B.A. (Bachelor of Arts in Digital Illustration): Some institutions offer specialized programs in digital illustration. This degree program focuses on developing digital illustration skills using digital mediums, including character design, concept art, and visual storytelling.

Typical graduate degrees you can earn related to digital illustration:

  • M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts): The degree is often available with specializations in digital art, visual design, and digital illustration. It’s a terminal degree that allows students to refine their artistic skills and produce a significant body of work.
  • M.A. (Master of Arts in Digital Media): This graduate degree program focuses on advanced studies in digital media and may include coursework in areas such as digital art, interactive design, and multimedia production.
  • M.S. (Master of Science in Computer Graphics): This degree program is more technically oriented and is suitable for those interested in the technical aspects of digital art and computer-generated imagery (CGI). It often covers computer graphics software and technology.
  • M.A. (Master of Arts in Visual Communication): This graduate program is focused on visual design, communication, and storytelling. It can be an excellent choice for individuals interested in pursuing careers in graphic design, digital illustration, and other related fields.

Share Your Digital Illustrations Online

Nothing speaks of more volume than your work. Showing your work online shows potential companies, studios, and businesses that you know how to create digital illustrations.

Companies are constantly searching for new skilled artists and illustrators, and by showing your work, you give them a signal of your existence and your art skills.

With millions of artists and digital illustrators already showing and sharing their work online, it can take a bit of time before your work gets noticed, so hard work and consistency are needed.

Some platforms like Pinterest work very differently than, for example, Instagram. With a correct Pinterest content strategy, your work gets searched and found instead of lost in the endless Instagram feed.

Also, platforms like Behance and Artstation have built-in features that let you put your profile to “hire me or looking for job” status. This tells companies, small businesses, and studios you are available for hire.

Most prominent social media platforms to showcase your work online:

Popular digital art websites to post your illustrations:

Other sites to consider posting your art into:

Build a Website

Building an artist’s website isn’t as difficult as you might think. You need a domain name (e.g., google.com) and a hosting service (Siteground, Bluehost, etc.). You can also build your website with Squarespace, which provides both services under one roof.

The website you should create depends on what kind of career or business you want to build around your digital illustration skills.

If you are into e-commerce, blogging, want total control, and want the capabilities to expand your website to anything, you should choose WordPress.

Squarespace is the go-to solution if you want an easy-to-use, easy-to-manage website. Squarespace offers domain hosting, website hosting, and drag-and-drop website builder.

Example of services you can offer through your website:

  • Freelance illustration services (example)
  • Mentorship, consultation, and coaching services (example)
  • Commissions (example)

The upside of having your own website signals that you are serious about your career and want to build a brand around your skills. The downside is that you need traffic to your website to get noticed online.

You can get traffic to your site by creating content, showing your work online, and linking back to your website from your social profiles.

Set Up an Online Store

You can either set up an online store straight to your website or use e-commerce marketplaces or e-commerce platforms to get your illustration career up and running. You can also do them all to gain even more exposure for your work and income to your business.

Through your online store or a marketplace, you can sell digital products such as courses, tutorials, digital art, art resources, and everything you can think of. You can also do art commissions through your online store, so there is no limit to what you can offer.

I use Gumroad, Artstation, Udemy, and Skillshare to sell digital illustrations, courses, and art resources. Each platform brings income even when they have the same products on offer.

Examples of online store platforms:

List of free e-commerce marketplaces to sell digital products and illustrations for free:

List of free e-commerce platforms to sell digital products and illustrations for free:

Build an Online Art Portfolio

Artstation, Behance, DeviantArt, and other big digital art sites offer you the option to build an online art portfolio. While this is a lot about sharing your work online, the approach you take to building your art portfolio can differ a lot.

Some illustrators share progress shots of their work, while others only share the final artwork. While it’s beneficial to show your full skill palette, the work that gets noted is usually the final artwork.

You can build your art portfolio to showcase only your best work, everything you do or would like to do as an artist, or you can niche down to a specific style and art direction like concept art, character design, environment painting, etc.

If you want to work in a specific animation studio or a video game studio, study what they are known for and what they tend to do, develop those illustration skills, and showcase them in your art portfolio.

Create Content Around Your Expertise

Creator economy, content creation, and user-generated content are in full swing. Content is being pushed to social media platforms more than ever. Still, it’s because companies, individual artists, small businesses, etc., have noticed that it’s a way to build a brand and connection with users, and it’s cheaper and more powerful than ads.

If you are into character design, you could start creating content around that topic. Pour out everything you know about the topic in the form of YouTube videos, blog posts, TikTok shorts, Instagram reels, etc.

Essentially, you are a kind of creator educator in your niche (specialized and specific segment of a larger market).

By creating content, you are slowly attracting your target audience to your skills, brand, or business, which will elevate your art career.

Ways to create content around your expertise:

  • Written (Blogging (WordPress), Substack, Medium, Artstation blog)
  • Audio (Podcasting)
  • Visual (Instagram, Threads, Pinterest, Facebook groups, etc.)
  • Video (YouTube, TikTok)

Approach Companies

You can approach companies by doing good old-fashioned legwork to advance your digital illustration career. Sending job applications, art portfolios, and approaching companies can land you your new dream job as a digital illustrator.

Companies appreciate skills more than education. Show your skills as an artist, and you will get noticed. While education is important, you can land a position by just being good at your craft.

You have your way of drawing, a unique way of approaching design, and the skill to bring your imagination to life.

Showing these online, one way or another, attracts companies to you, but you can also be proactive and approach them by showing what you are made of.

Types of companies you can approach with job applications:

  • Video game studios
  • Animation studios
  • Creative agencies
  • Marketing agencies
  • Film studios
  • Schools and universities

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Okuha

Digital Artist

I’m a digital artist who is passionate about anime and manga art. My true artist journey pretty much started with CTRL+Z. When I experienced that and the limitless color choices and the number of tools I could use with art software, I was sold. Drawing digital anime art is the thing that makes me happy among eating cheeseburgers in between veggie meals.

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